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Presidential Candidates Focus on Domestic Issues

Jana Rogers

Editor’s note: The final debate took place after The
Weekly went to print and will be covered in the next issue.

The candidates turned up the heat in the second presidential
debate last Friday, addressing a range of issues from the war in
Iraq and homeland security, to abortion and future Supreme Court

President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry met at Washington
Univ. in St. Louis, Missouri to answer questions from local
residents and moderator Charles Gibson from ABC News.

When audience member Cheryl Otis asked Kerry to reply to
statements that he is “wishy-washy’ he said, “the
president didn’t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so
he’s really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass
deception,” and said that he still supports the goals of the
Patriot Act and the No Child Left Behind Act, but that changes need
to be made.

Referring to Kerry’s statement about voting for the war
before he voted against it, Bush replied, “I don’t see
how you can lead this country in a time of war…if you change
your mind because of politics.”

“I made a mistake in the way I talked about it. He made a
mistake in invading Iraq,” Kerry said later in the debate.
“Which is a worse decision?”

Kerry said that if elected he will focus on building alliances
and leading the world against proliferation of weapons of mass

Bush criticized Kerry, saying, “my opponent said that
America must pass a global test before we used force to protect
ourselves…sanctions were not working. The United Nations was not
effective at removing Saddam Hussein.”

In response, Kerry said, “The goal of the sanctions was
not to remove Saddam Hussein. It was to remove the weapons of mass
destruction.” America “could have saved $200 billion
and an invasion of Iraq” with smart diplomacy, Kerry

Bush rushed to war, Kerry said, “without a plan to win the
peace…We were safer before President Bush came to
office.” Kerry said the president “is moving to the
creation of our own bunker-busting nuclear weapon. It’s very
hard to get other countries to give up their weapons when
you’re busy developing a new one.”

Bush remained firm in his statements that the war in Iraq is
succeeding, and said Kerry’s plan for training Iraqis and
withdrawing American troops, “sounds familiar because
it’s called the Bush Plan…We’re going to make
elections and Iraq is going to be free and America will be better
off for it.” He said, “the best way to defend America
in this war, in this world we live in, is to stay on the

When asked how he plans to repair relations with other
countries, Bush said, “I recognize I’ve made some
decisions that have caused people to not understand the great
values of our country,” referring to removing Hussein,
policies on Israel, and withdrawing from the International Criminal
Court. “We’ll continue to reach out…I
don’t think you want a president who tries to become popular
and does the wrong thing.”

Asked about the draft, Bush said, “We’re not going
to have a draft, period. The all-volunteer Army works.” He
said the military is transforming, “we’re moving troops
out of Korea and replacing them with more effective

Kerry countered by saying stop-loss policies that stop soldiers
from leaving at the end of the tour equal a “backdoor draft
right now.” He said he would add 40,000 active duty forces
with foreign policies that build alliances. “We’re not
going to go alone, like this president did.”

Gibson attempted to expand the question to Bush regarding
reservists being held on duty, but Bush interrupted him and
forcefully answered, “You tell Tony Blair we’re going
alone…It denigrates an alliance to say we’re going

Kerry responded with, “Mr. President, countries are
leaving the coalition, not joining,” and added that 90
percent of the casualties and costs of the Iraq war have been

Kerry’s tax plans include a rollback of Bush’s tax
cut for the one percent of people earning over $200,000 a year, and
to provide more tax cuts for middle-class citizens. Audience member
James Varner asked Kerry to look directly into the camera and give
the American people a pledge not to raise taxes for those earning
less than $200,000, and Kerry did, saying he’s even scaled
back some of his programs.

Bush said that Kerry’s tax plan would affect 900,000 small
businesses, but Kerry responded saying, “The president got
$84 from a timber company that he owns and he’s counted as a
small business.”

“I own a timber company? That’s news to me,”
Bush joked. “Need some wood?” But the non-partisan Web
site reported that according to his 2003 financial
disclosures, Bush does own part interest “in a company
organized for the purpose of the production of trees for commercial

When asked about taxpayer funds being used for abortions, Kerry
said as a Catholic, he respects “the belief about life and
where it begins.”

“But,” he said, “I can’t take what is an
article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who
doesn’t share that.” As a president, he said he would
have to represent all people. He said rights mean allowing people
to be fully educated on their options, “and making certain
you don’t deny a poor person the right to be able to have
whatever the Constitution affords them if they can’t afford
it otherwise.”

Bush said, “my answer is we’re not going to spend
federal taxpayers’ money on abortion” and said the ban
on “partial-birth” abortion and parental notification
laws are ways to reduce abortions.

Kerry said he voted against the ban because it lacked an
exception for the health of the mother, and regarding parental
notification, “I’m not going to require a 16- or
17-year-old-kid who’s been raped by her father and
who’s pregnant to have to notify her father.”

When asked about the Patriot Act’s implications on citizen
rights, Bush said he doesn’t think rights are being
“watered down”, but it is necessary, “because
parts of the FBI couldn’t talk to each other.”

In answering an earlier question Kerry said, “I support it
(the Patriot Act). I just don’t like the way John Ashcroft
has applied it.”

When asked who he would appoint to the Supreme Court, Bush said
he would “pick somebody who would strictly interpret the
Constitution” and that he wouldn’t pick “a judge
who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn’t be said in a
school because it had the words ‘under God’ in

Kerry told the audience that four years ago, Bush said
“what we need are some good conservative judges.” Kerry
said he believes, “the mark of a good judge, or a good
justice, is that when you’re reading their
decision…you can’t tell if it’s written by a man
or a woman, a liberal or a conservative, a Muslim, a Jew, or a
Christian.” He said key questions are: “Will
women’s rights be protected? Will we have equal pay for
women, which is going backwards? Will a woman’s right to
choose be protected?”

On the issue of health care, Kerry said that five million people
lost their insurance under Bush’s presidency, and added,
“I have a plan to let you buy into the same health care
senators and congressmen give themselves.”

Bush said that with Kerry’s plan, “the federal
government is going to run it [and] it would ruin the quality of
health care in America.”

Kerry responded saying, “It is not a government takeover.
You have choice. Choose your doctor. Choose your plan.” He
said his plan would cover all Americans, but reported
a study that projects 92 percent would have coverage, up from just
below 86 percent in 2003.

On the environment, Bush said, “I guess you’d say
I’m a good steward of the land,” citing an agreement to
reduce off-road vehicle pollution by 90 percent, and plans to
increase the wetlands that he did not detail. He said foresting
policies are to keep them from being “vulnerable to the
forest fires that have destroyed acres after acres in the

Kerry countered that he didn’t think Bush was
“living in a world of reality with respect to the
environment.” He said the air would be cleaner if the Clean
Air Act stayed the same than if Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative
is implemented.

At one point, Bush was asked to give three instances he realized
he’d made a wrong decision and how he corrected it. He
answered that there are a lot of little decisions, and
“I’ve made some mistakes in appointing people”
but that he stands by the major decisions he’s made, namely
the war in Iraq.